How to Deal with Difficult Employees


Even with fantastic management and leadership skills, occasionally a difficult employee comes along that many a manager would struggle to deal with.

You may have thought at first that they would fit right into your team, that their work experience was perfect and that they had valuable skills to offer. However, as time has gone by you start to realise that their attitude, negativity or lack of professionalism is having a less than desirable impact on your whole team.

So, what should you do? Take a look at our helpful tips below to see how you can deal with difficult employees in a diplomatic and effective way

1. Accept that there’s a problem

Sometimes we try to ignore our problems in the hope that if we don’t acknowledge them they will simply go away. However, if you’ve noticed that an employee is having a negative impact on your team then you need to address it sooner rather than later. The longer you leave it, the more damage will be done so let’s get to it and tackle the problem head-on.

2. Listen to what your employee is saying

The only way to uncover an underlying issue that could be causing your difficult employee’s behaviour is to listen to what they have to say. If you don’t know what’s causing their behaviour, you won’t be able to manage the situation effectively.

In many instances, difficult employees act the way they do because they don’t feel like their voice is being heard or valued. Sometimes it may be the case that another person in your team is at the route of the problem. By listening and trying to resolve any problems they are having, you will help your employee to feel more valued and to change their attitude.

3. Keep an eye out

If you’ve heard a complaint about one of your team members, try to check out the situation yourself before jumping to conclusions. Everyone has bad days at work and everyone can be affected by what’s going on in their personal lives. If you’re concerned about someone, keep an eye on them to see if the problem is reoccurring or just a one-time thing.

4. Give constructive feedback

Every manager has to tackle the challenge of giving negative feedback. The most important part of feedback, however, it to make it constructive. Focus first on positives and then provide some areas of improvement while maintaining a positive tone. You’ll want your employee to leave their feedback meeting feeling positive and motivated to improve.

Another effective way to boost motivation and positive attitudes is to give feedback to your team as a whole. You can refer to some specific examples, but try not to sound like you are calling out an individual. This way the message may sink in without you making anyone feel like they are being personally attacked.

5. Create solutions

If you want to get your employee back on the right track you need to provide them with some solutions and actions. Work with them to create some clear and manageable career goals or targets, put together a plan of how they can reach them and some timelines for when they want to achieve their goals. Once you have a plan in place, check in regularly to see how they are progressing and provide any support or training they may need to get to where they want to go.

6. Document your actions

If you’re working closely with a difficult employee to help them improve, make an effort to have things in writing so you have proof of the steps you are taking. You can summarise your plan in an email to them or create a document of steps that they are working through. Hopefully it won’t come it, but if you do have to let them go at least you’ll have evidence of their lack of improvement.

7. Let them know the consequences

If you’re working through a plan with your employee and you still aren’t seeing any improvements, you’ll need to set our clear consequences. Let them know that you believe they can turn things around but as you haven’t seen any improvement so far, you will be giving them a formal warning/letting them go if you don’t see any changes by a certain date.

8. Do things by the book

Your company should have a HR policy and the rules are there for a reason so do be sure to stick to them. If you have a HR department, work with them when handling difficult employees. Your HR manager may also have some additional tips on how to manage your team member

9. Know when to cut your ties

Unfortunately, there will be cases when you can see that your employee is not making improvements and isn’t going to change. A difficult employee who is not good for the team and is dragging down morale has to go.

Have an honest conversation with your employee and let them know that you will be terminating their employment. Ideally, you will want to leave things on good terms and come to an agreement that the role/company just isn’t right for them.

Bringing it all together

Dealing with a difficult employee is a tough challenge for the majority of managers, but it is one of your responsibilities. Follow our tips, stay professional and do what you can to help. If you do your best, things will work out one way or another.


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